Renewable Materials Conference 2022

The Renewable Materials Conference (RMC) 2022 took place in Cologne from 10 to 12 May and attracted over 400 participants who came to see the latest developments in bio- and CO2-based chemicals, plastics and other materials as well as advanced recycling technologies. 60 speakers and 25 exhibitors from leading companies presented their innovative products and strategies.

The RMC covers the whole spectrum of renewable materials and carbon sources: biomass, CO2, as well as recycling streams. All of them offer solutions for the same goal: replacing fossil with renewable carbon to protect the climate, create sustainable carbon cycles and end dependence on fossil imports with valid new business options. The presentations showed that all options are needed and are gaining momentum. The production capacities for bio-based polymers – today already covering over 4 million tonnes – are predicted to grow at an annual rate of 12% until 2026, reaching over 8 million tonnes in 2026. This growth will mainly take place in Asia. By 2026, the Asian share of the total global polymer production will be 2-3%.

The production capacity of partially CO2-based polymers has already reached the volume of 1 million tonnes, while the CO2-based carbon content so far only covers 5 to 11%. Currently, considerable investments are especially focusing on CO2-based ethanol and methanol, which can be used for both fuels and chemicals, especially in Europe.

Large investments are also being made in the area of “advanced recycling”. Above all a planned investment of 1 billion € in a methanolysis-based project in France using 160,000 tonnes/year of hard-to-recycle plastic waste. Even if the political framework so far lacks suitable regulations for advanced recycling, companies assume that the ambitious plans for recycling quotas (e.g. for packaging of 55%) cannot be achieved without chemical recycling.

Alongside polymers and plastics, the market for fine chemicals too is gaining momentum. The fine chemical session, moderated by Dennis Herzberg and Sarah Refai from CLIB, showed that products and processes based on renewable carbon get closer to the market. Successful innovative solutions meet the increasing consumer demand for sustainability as well as cost-performance. Besides drop-in solutions, completely new products with novel functionalities are entering the market. Within the HiPerIn 2.0 project, which set the framework for the fine chemical session, CLIB is pursuing how the next generation of high-performance ingredients is shaping the biotechnology sector as enabling technologies to support this process towards new functional molecules into the market. At the same time, the project focuses on how HiPerIns are influenced by cross-cutting topics such as digitialisation, regulation, and public perception. Several presentations have addressed some of these important aspects covered in the project and covered, in addition, a wide range of feedstocks, process technologies and target markets, such as surfactants, dyes, food preservatives and perfumes. The session highlighted the broad range of applications and opportunities for fine chemicals based on renewable carbon.

After it was first introduced at the Renewable Material Conference 2021, the conference granted for the second time the “Renewable Material of the Year” award. This year the nova-Institute received 31 applications, from which a jury of advisory board members and nova experts nominated the six most promising candidates. Following the concept presentations, the participants voted for the three winners: Twelve Benefit Corporation (US) developed an electrochemical device to transform CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO), a key chemical building-block for many applications. Lactips (FR) presented the Plastic Free PaperTM with a 100% natural, bio-based coating solution for paper and board, with improved barrier properties and enabled thermal sealing without compromising the recyclability of paper. Eastman (US) developed a material-to-material molecular recycling method for plastic waste as a feedstock to make new plastics, keeping the carbon in the loop and leaving more fossil feedstocks in the ground.

To meet the expected future growth of the conference and exhibition, the conference will move next year, 23 – 25 May, to Siegburg, located between Cologne and Bonn.